No Bricks Without ClayPosted: August 1, 2012
“Data! Data! Data!” he cried impatiently. “I can’t make bricks without clay.” (Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
I’ve used this quote before but, in this case, I’m talking about students. I cannot produce graduates without first year students, and I have no first year students unless interested students come in from the schools.I’ve just returned from a school visit to years 10-12 and, regrettably, I don’t have many bricks. Last night I attended a careers night that was a joint event between two fee-paying secondary schools, one all-girls, one co-educational. There were three presentation slots allocated across the night and, because of space limitations, the more interest you had, the more slots you got.
Medicine had all three slots filled, law had all three and teaching had all three – all with standing room only. Journalism had all three slots filled. Media studies had two, sports studies had two. Information technology had one – right at the end of the night – and I only had eight people scheduled to attend. Of these, seven were male and one was female. And that is the total number of bricks that I have from two prominent, highly academic and well-resourced schools in my primary catchment. What puzzles me the most is that one of these schools has one of the richest IT environments in the state and these students are surrounded, every day, by the fruits of the labours of my students. But, as I’ve discussed before, Computing/IT/CS/ICT/IS has a loosely defined identity and doesn’t have the best image to start with.
I’m disappointed by the level of interest but I’m not surprised. The attendees were almost all from Year 10 – the peak of interest in our school body, with one Year 12 signed up to attend but, I believe, who didn’t show up. Regrettably, it because obvious that my placement at the end of the night put me into the burnout zone for several of the students. One attended, put their head down on the table before I’d started speaking and only raised it to leave at the end of the talk. Even the parents looked a little glazed over at the start and it took a lot of showmanship to bring people back into the activity. However, I think that we had a good showing for those people who were there. As always, the problem is that vast number of people who weren’t there.
Tomorrow, I disrupt my schedule completely to fly to Sydney to discuss a systematic, sponsored outreach activity into schools to try and fix this. What I would like to see, in 2-3 years time, is full sessions and standing room only for Computing and ICT sessions, with a strong showing from both genders and under-represented groups. It was useful to be on the ground to see the problem face-to-face but I’d be lying if I said that today wasn’t starting on a demoralised note.
Tomorrow, we try again to fix the problem.